Beirut Gad, a Lebanese who works as an executive director in Dubai, lost hope of returning to his country due to the economic collapse and got tired of waiting a long time to get visas for his business trips, so paid only $ 135,000. to buy a foreign passport.
A month later, he received a package containing his and his wife’s passports, issued by Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.
Gad and his wife can now travel to more than 150 countries, including Europe, without having to obtain entry visas.
The new document is a qualitative step in Gad’s life, as the Henley Passport Index ranked the Lebanese passport among the worst in the world in terms of ease of obtaining visas. Also, today it has become almost impossible to renew the passport due to lack of stock and lack of funds, in a country that is experiencing a severe economic crisis since the fall of 2019.
“Three years ago, I would never have imagined buying a passport,” says Gad, who asked not to use his last name to protect his privacy. “But now, because of the situation in Lebanon and because we can handle it, we have finally done it.”
The island of Saint Kitts and Nevis, with a population of just 55,000, began its passport-selling program just one year after gaining independence in 1983. His passport ranks 25th in the world, according to the Henley Index, which ranks passports according to the accessibility they provide to their holders.
Nationality acquisition programs attract wealthy people from countries experiencing economic crises or sanctions, such as Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and finally Lebanon.
Today, many wealthy Lebanese, most of whom work or invest in Gulf or African countries, are rushing to buy passports or obtain residences abroad, having lost hope that Lebanon would emerge at any time close to stormy collapse. economic.
The collapse triggered a massive wave of migration. For several months, the queues that had begun to form at dawn did not disappear in front of the General Security stations, which last month announced they would stop issuing passports because the stock was about to run out.
And the demands to buy passports are growing, especially in the Caribbean, because those who wish can get them within a few months for a lot of money without having to visit their new country.
Gad recounts that when he first traveled to Paris with his new document, “the staff at the airport saw my passport and told me I was coming from a beautiful place.” “But I’ve never really been there,” he added.
And not only Gadi, but also his friends are shopping for “island passports”, and some of them are seeing the opportunity to invest in European countries like Greece and Portugal in exchange for permanent residence. “What is happening is not just a general trend, but it is the solution,” Gad said.
As long as the Lebanese in the Gulf countries in particular, their number is approximately 350 thousand, including one hundred thousand in the Emirates, they are stuck between diplomatic and political tensions that increase their fear of losing a way of life with which they are accustomed. .
◙ Saint Kitts and Nevis began the passport sales program just one year after gaining independence in 1983
“All of this made me think there was a problem and I did not want to risk my job in the Gulf,” said Marielle Bouharb, a 35-year-old Lebanese businesswoman in Dubai.
Last year Marielli bought four passports from Saint Kitts for him, his wife and their two children, after being tempted by an offer to deduct $ 50,000 from the cost due to the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic on the island, which depends largely on tourist services.
A passport typically costs $ 150,000 as a donation to the Sustainable Growth Fund in a country that installed the first traffic lights in its capital in 2018. Other Caribbean islands also sell their passports, such as Grenada, Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica.
As for Lebanon, where more than eighty percent of the population is below the poverty line, only a few can buy foreign passports. Over the past two years, the work of companies specializing in passport advice has flourished and their advertising has increased, whether through billboards, inside the airport, or by text message.
In 2020, Ziad Karkaji transformed his real estate company into Global Pass, a passport consulting firm. “Our business has grown by at least forty percent between 2020 and 2021,” he says.
As a result of the economic collapse and subsequent explosion of the Port of Beirut in 2020, the number of Lebanese clients increased fivefold for the Swiss consulting company Legacy, in which Jose Charo works.
quarter of customers
The Lebanese now make up a quarter of the company’s customers, whose Beirut branch is run by Charo. And if the client wants a solution that will allow him to easily obtain an investor visa in the United States, according to Sharow, it is better to obtain the citizenship of the island of Grenada.
As for those who want to retire or settle abroad, Charo advises investing about a quarter of a million dollars in exchange for permanent residence in Greece or Portugal.
“This sector will continue to flourish, unfortunately for the country, but fortunately for us,” he said. He adds that Lebanese are buying their freedom.
The collapse caused a massive wave of migration and for several months the queues that had begun to form at dawn did not disappear.
Lebanon is experiencing a severe economic crisis as successive governments accumulated debts in the wake of the civil war that erupted between 1975 and 1990, achieving no gains with these wasteful expenditures. It has paralyzed banks, which are central to the service-based economy.
The savings owners were unable to withdraw their money after the crisis prevented them from withdrawing from their dollar accounts, or they were told that the money they could withdraw now was no longer worth only a fraction of their original value. The Lebanese currency collapsed, pushing a large segment of the population into the ranks of the poor.
Lebanon is suffering from a severe economic crisis that began in 2019 when the financial system collapsed under the weight of sovereign debt and the volatile ways in which it was financed, while politicians have not yet come up with a rescue plan.